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The Ethics of Place Branding: A Discussion Arising out of Liverpool as the European Capital of Culture 2008

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As the forces which shape human enterprise increasingly flow in global space, the need to find a place in this world arena becomes ever more pressing at a local level. The often politically driven phenomenon of countries, regions and cities attempting to differentiate themselves from each other is becoming increasingly popular across the globe. Places are looking to the concept of branding, which has been enormously successful for commercial products, to give themselves a clear identity in the global market place. The concept of place branding is not a new one but place branding offers some interesting ethical challenges in this global space.

The challenges generated by the branding of places arise from two sources: first, from the issues generated by attempting to brand a place in the way that a commodity might be branded; and secondly, globalization means places have to position themselves amidst cultural, philosophical and ethically diverse contexts. The contrasting of markets is mirrored by contrasting ideologies and ethical frameworks through which they seek to compete with one another. This process of global positioning therefore offers not just a choice of marketing or branding strategies, but also decisions about the ethical frameworks which might underpin the moral legitimacy of such a strategy.

An understanding of the country or city of origin effect allows countries, organizations and people to try to reposition themselves to strengthen positive attributes and minimize or remove negative attributes (Thakor & Lavack 2003). ‘Place branding’, then, can be defined as the practice of applying marketing and branding strategies and techniques to the economic, social, and cultural development of places like cities, or nations. It is a further development of consumerism and consumption, research into which can be forged through historical, social, and cultural lenses.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

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